Beware Of “This Is Big” & Other Snappy Catchphrases

The Miniature Science series of ads, created last year by the very talented folks at BBDO on behalf of their client ExxonMobil, are snappy.

By now most people who pay attention to climate science are aware of ExxonMobil’s active role in creating doubt about the emerging facts that their own scientists established about mankind’s impact on climate. In addition to actors like that giant petrochemical company, there are also behind-the-scenes, complicit creatives who have provided essential messaging to strengthen the deception. In a new essay, Bill McKibben turns his attention to those folks, and expects accountability:

If money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns, then P.R. campaigns and snappy catchphrases are the kindling. Illustration by Lia Liao

When “Creatives” Turn Destructive: Image-Makers and the Climate Crisis

Past sins are past no more: an overdue historical recalibration is under way, with monuments being pulled down, dorms renamed, restitution offered. People did things, bad things; even across the span of centuries, they’re being held to account, and there’s something noble about that. The Reverend Robert W. Lee IV, for instance, recently backed the removal of his famous ancestor’s statue from Richmond, Virginia. The memorial, he wrote, “is a hollow reminder of a painful ideology and acts of oppression against black people. Taking it down will provide new opportunities for conversations, relationships and policy change.” Such a response raises an uncomfortable question: What are we doing now that our descendants will need to apologize for? Might we be able to get ahead of the sin this time? Continue reading

Does Planting A Trillion Trees Sound Implausible?

A nursery manager plants a whitebark pine at Glacier National Park in Montana in September 2019, part of an effort to restore vegetation following a wildfire. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Here in Iota-drenched Costa Rica there is damage from this hurricane and from the one that just ended a week earlier, but it is minuscule compared to what Nicaragua and Honduras have sustained. If you are scientifically inclined, then two complementary ideas are easy to digest: 1) the people suffering most from the effects of climate change are among the least responsible for causing it; and 2) they live in places that may be best-suited for mitigating it.  For our part, planting trees when coffee is purchased is a drop in the ocean of need. A story we missed from a few months ago gives some hope that this particular idea has a future:

Two-Thirds of Americans Think Government Should Do More on Climate

Bipartisan backing for carbon capture tax credits, extensive tree-planting efforts

A majority of Americans continue to say they see the effects of climate change in their own communities and believe that the federal government falls short in its efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change.

At a time when partisanship colors most views of policy, broad majorities of the public – including more than half of Republicans and overwhelming shares of Democrats – say they would favor a range of initiatives to reduce the impacts of climate change, including large-scale tree planting efforts, tax credits for businesses that capture carbon emissions and tougher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Continue reading

Protecting Peat Bog Is Big

Andrew Coupar, a NatureScot peatlands expert, at the Forsinard visitor centre. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

If you go to the home improvement center, or any gardening shop, you will see this stuff in plastic bags, ranging in size from small pillow to half-bale. If you purchase it you are buying into a destructive practice that goes beyond the destruction of amazingly beautiful landscape. If heritage status helps end that, we are all for it:

World heritage status for Scottish peat bogs could help UK hit net zero goals

Hopes rise that the Flow Country, the world’s largest carbon store, could become first peatland to win the status

Ecologists estimate that while peatlands cover only 3% of the Earth’s land surface, they hold 30% of the carbon stored on land. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Andrew Coupar has crouched down by a small pool, its surface peppered with the small stalks of bogbean. In autumn its dark green oval leaves echo the muted browns, greens and ochres of the surrounding peatland.

In spring, however, the bogbean’s pink-fringed white flowers put on a remarkable display, carpeting the cluster of pools that mirror the blue skies and light clouds above and, along the horizon to west, the mountains of Sutherland. Continue reading

A 2020 Bright Spot

Solar panels are installed on to the roof of a house in Sydney, Australia. Almost 90% of new electricity generation in 2020 will be renewable, the IEA says. Photograph: Reuters

Thanks to the Guardian’s Environment editor Damian Carrington for this sunny news:

International Energy Agency expects green electricity to end coal’s 50-year reign by 2025

Global renewable electricity installation will hit a record level in 2020, according to the International Energy Agency, in sharp contrast with the declines caused by the coronavirus pandemic in the fossil fuel sectors. Continue reading

Character & Entrepreneurial Conservation

A diadem sifaka, a type of lemur, in northern Madagascar. Erik Vance/The New York Times

Erik Vance, whose work I have not seen in more than three years, caught my attention again this week. Then it was in National Geographic and from my perch in Belize his story had an obvious connection to my location. This story, in the New York Times, is read from a perch in Costa Rica. My perspective, as ever, is influenced by the search for examples of entrepreneurial conservation. I am happy to read about this one full of interesting characters, in a country I have yet to visit, where there is resonance with some of my experience in Costa Rica. Creative people, knowing that the country’s public conservation commitments have their limits, achieve remarkable conservation goals through private reserves that add to the public good. The section describing a small park with big potential could have also been written about Seth’s workplace last year:

In Madagascar, Endangered Lemurs Find a Private Refuge

Climate change is shifting the habitats of endangered species and requiring conservation scientists to think outside traditional park boundaries.

Sambava, Madagascar — Madagascar has always been one of the best places on Earth to study the natural world. Continue reading

Feedlot Paradigm Progress

A dust cloud over the Bovina Cattle Company’s feed yard near Bovina, Texas.

As we all hopefully make progress on our reduction of meat consumption, Henry Fountain and George Steinmetz (photographs and video) add to our understanding of how cattle are raised now, and what could change to reduce the carbon footprint:

Belching Cows and Endless Feedlots: Fixing Cattle’s Climate Issues

The United States is home to 95 million cattle, and changing what they eat could have a significant effect on emissions of greenhouse gases like methane that are warming the world.

HAPPY, Texas — Randy Shields looked out at a sea of cattle at the sprawling Wrangler Feedyard — 46,000 animals milling about in the dry Panhandle air as a feed truck swept by on its way to their pens. Continue reading

Marine Ecosystem Restoration Success Stories

Seagrass beds off Virginia’s Eastern Shore went from barren sediment to abundant meadows in 20 years in the world’s largest restoration project. credit: JAY FLEMING

Thanks for Science News for this wonderful example of successful ecosystem restoration.

How planting 70 million eelgrass seeds led to an ecosystem’s rapid recovery

The study is a blueprint for capitalizing on this habitat’s capacity to store carbon

In the world’s largest seagrass restoration project, scientists have observed an ecosystem from birth to full flowering.

As part of a 20-plus-years project, researchers and volunteers spread more than 70 million eelgrass seeds over plots covering more than 200 hectares, just beyond the wide expanses of salt marsh off the southern end of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Long-term monitoring of the restored seagrass beds reveals a remarkably hardy ecosystem that is trapping carbon and nitrogen that would otherwise contribute to global warming and pollution, the team reports October 7 in Science Advances. That success provides a glimmer of hope for the climate and for ecosystems, the researchers say.

The project, led by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and The Nature Conservancy, has now grown to cover 3,612 hectares — and counting — in new seagrass beds. By comparison, the largest such project in Australia aims to restore 10 hectares of seagrass.

The results are “a game changer,” says Carlos Duarte. Continue reading

If You Have IKEA Stuff, Note This

I am not a fan of IKEA. That said, I shopped there once, as a younger parent. There seemed no other choice at the time, and I did not regret it until I became more acutely conscious of the perils posed by this business model. Thanks to Olivia Rosane at EcoWatch for sharing this story, which I missed in the Guardian because I scan the Environment section and usually skip the Business section (note to self):

IKEA to Buy Back Used Furniture This Black Friday in 27 Countries

IKEA created the world’s longest outdoor bookcase on Bondi Beach, Australia to celebrate its 30th birthday and promote literacy on Jan. 31, 2010. James D. Morgan / Contributor / Getty Images News

Swedish furniture giant IKEA has a plan to make this year’s Black Friday a little greener.

As part of its bid to become more sustainable, the store will allow customers to sell back their used furniture for up to half of its original price.

Sustainability is the defining issue of our time and IKEA is committed to being part of the solution to promote sustainable consumption and combat climate change,” UK and Ireland IKEA retail manager Peter Jelkeby told The Guardian. Continue reading

A Few Attenborough Minutes

When he first appeared in these pages, and each of the dozens of times since then that David Attenborough has returned, it is worth at least a few minutes of attention. Click above to go to the video or below to go to the transcript:

Amid planet’s crisis, filmmaker Sir David Attenborough’s ‘vision for the future’

Filmmaker Sir David Attenborough has been documenting the natural world since the 1950s. In his latest book and film, “A Life on Our Planet,” he offers a grave and alarming assessment about the climate crisis Earth is facing. The 94-year-old Attenborough spoke with William Brangham recently as part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas. Continue reading

Arborists & Urban Futures

Xuebing Du

An article by Clive Thompson we linked to in 2016 makes me wonder why today is the first time we are sharing his work since then. I remember reading a review of his book last year but did not see a fit with the themes we tend to focus on here. Urban trees,  for one example, feature in our pages frequently. And trees more broadly speaking have probably been featured more than any other topic due to our mission. So our appreciation to the Atlantic for publishing this, and an added thanks for the excellent photographic accompaniments:

Trees Are Time Machines

Arborists are planting trees today that must survive decades of global warming. The health, comfort, and happiness of city dwellers hang in the balance.

City trees lead difficult lives. A lot of things are trying to kill them, particularly the trees planted on sidewalks: Tightly compacted soil with high alkaline content makes it harder for them to absorb nutrients. Tiny plots of land admit very little rainwater. They’ve got dogs peeing on them, people dropping cigarette butts nearby, and cars belching pollution.

Xuebing Du

“We’re talking about trees that are very vulnerable,” says Navé Strauss, the head of street-tree planting for New York City. His team manages the planting of new trees on streets and public rights of way; there are more than 666,000 street trees in the city, and the team plants about 16,000 new ones annually. For decades, New York arborists have tended to prefer “tough,” hardy species that thrive well against adversity—such as the London planetree, which sports grayish bark and big, maple-like leaves that offer sidewalks tons of shade.

But lately, Strauss has been looking for trees that can handle an even tougher challenge: climate change.

Xuebing Du

In the past century, the United States has heated up as much as 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit. Continue reading

A Sober Consideration Of Fire

The Bobcat Fire burns through the Angeles National Forest in Southern California on September 17. KYLE GRILLOT/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Stephen J. Pyne, more than an expert on fire–if you have heard the term Pyrocene, thank him–gives a primer here worth your time if you want the scary stuff in perspective. Wonky in a powerfully good way, still accessible and clear:

Our Burning Planet: Why We Must Learn to Live with Fire

By suppressing all wildfires and incessantly burning fossil fuels, humans have upset the role that fire has historically played in providing ecological balance. We need to rethink our view of fire and accept its presence by changing how we manage lands and plan our communities.

There is a paradox at the core of Earth’s unraveling firescapes.

The fires are seemingly everywhere, and everywhere more feral. They are burning from the Arctic to the Amazon, from New South Wales to the West Coast. They are visible, and their smoke projects their presence in the form of immense palls well removed from the flames. But equally significant are the fires that aren’t happening.

The Earth is a fire planet, the only one we know. It has held fires as long as plants have lived on land. Removing fire from landscapes that have co-evolved or co-existed with it can be as ruinous as putting fire into landscapes that have no history of it. The fires we don’t see — the fires that should be there and aren’t — are an index of ecological loss, like imposing a drought on a normally lush landscape.

We have too many bad fires — fires that kill people, burn towns, and trash valued landscapes. We have too few good ones — fires that enhance ecological integrity and hold fires within their historic ranges. At the same time, with the incessant burning of fossil fuels, we have too much combustion on the planet overall.

How did fire’s presence on Earth become so deranged? Continue reading

Cambium Carbon’s Reforestation Hubs

When we started this platform for sharing news and experiences related to innovative approaches to conservation, Seth was in Nicaragua and wrote multiple posts on Simplemente Madera  It is odd not to find a more recent post about their One Tree initiative because in early 2019 while sourcing for Authentica we sought out products that supported tree-planting. Today I am reminded of all that from a link I followed to Cambium Carbon in this story:

Courtesy of Cambium Carbon. Cambium Carbon aims to turn cut or fallen urban trees into wood products that can be sold to fund tree-planting efforts. Currently, most trees removed from cities are either chipped for low-grade application or hauled to a landfill at a significant cost.

Reforestation Hubs, ‘Coming Soon’ to a City Near You

Cambium Carbon, an initiative founded by YSE students to combat climate change and revitalize urban communities by reimagining the urban tree lifecycle, has earned a $200,000 Natural Climate Solution Accelerator Grant from The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with The Arbor Day Foundation. Continue reading

Forests & Human Intervention

The Tuppers Lake area in western Montana.

The Tuppers Lake area in western Montana. STEVEN GNAM

Even as we may feel overdosed on news about forest fires, understanding what to do next is important. Thanks to Fred Pearce and Yale e360 for sharing relevant science:

Natural Debate: Do Forests Grow Better With Our Help or Without?

Nations around the world are pledging to plant billions of trees to grow new forests. But a new study shows that the potential for natural forest regrowth to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and fight climate change is far greater than has previously been estimated.

When Susan Cook-Patton was doing a post-doc in forest restoration at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland seven years ago, she says she helped plant 20,000 trees along Chesapeake Bay. It was a salutary lesson. “The ones that grew best were mostly ones we didn’t plant,” she remembers. “They just grew naturally on the ground we had set aside for planting. Lots popped up all around. It was a good reminder that nature knows what it is doing.” Continue reading

Paint Color: More Than An Aesthetic Choice

Image: Tyros.andi/Wikimedia Commons

Wind is a formidable renewable energy option, but the impacts on wildlife have long been discussed. It’s heartening that such a simple solution as paint has the potential to so drastically reduce the dangers to birds and bats.

A simple paint job can save birds from wind turbines

A small study in Norway showed that painting one blade of a wind turbine black reduced bird mortality by over 70%.

Wind energy is one of the world’s most popular renewables. It’s also one of the most promising—some calculations suggest that strategically placed wind turbines could conceivably power the entire planet. As more turbines go up worldwide, they’ll help us reduce pollution, water use and carbon emissions, along with the environmental degradation, habitat loss and human health risks that come with fracking and oil extraction.

But there are some who don’t benefit quite as much: flying animals. Each year, turbine blades kill hundreds of thousands of birds and bats. As wind power becomes more prevalent, this number may rise into the millions—although it’s important to remember that other power generation methods likely kill far more birds than wind farms do.

This concern has led to a number of proposed interventions, from turning off wind farms during migrations to installing special whistles only bats can hear. A new study presents a relatively low-cost, set-it-and-forget-it option: just paint one of the turbine blades black.

Continue reading

Ivy-League Activism

Harvard, with an endowment of more than $40 billion, has resisted calls to drop fossil fuel investments from its portfolio. Credit…Tony Luong for The New York Times

This successful petition campaign is in good company. Bravo Harvard for taking fact-forward action.

Climate Activists Gain Seats on Harvard Oversight Board

The candidates were the first ones elected through a petition campaign since 1989, when anti-apartheid activists put Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the panel.

Bucking tradition, a group of climate activists has won three seats in an election to an important governing body at Harvard University, the Board of Overseers, the university announced Friday.

The slate of candidates ran on a platform that included calls for the university to drop fossil fuel investments from its portfolio, part of a divestment movement that has swept college campuses for the better part of a decade.

Harvard, with an endowment of more than $40 billion, has resisted those calls. In April, the university’s president, Lawrence Bacow, said that divestment “paints with too broad a brush” and instead announced that Harvard was setting a course to become greenhouse-gas neutral by 2050, a move that he correctly predicted would not satisfy those seeking total divestment.

Candidates for the six-year terms on the board are customarily nominated through the Harvard Alumni Association. These candidates were elected through a petition campaign, the first to successfully do so since 1989, when a group seeking divestment from South Africa put forward Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Continue reading

Climate TRACE Coalition

TRACE

Like Skynet, but good! Shutterstock

Thanks to David Roberts, at Vox, for this news:

The entire world’s carbon emissions will finally be trackable in real time

The new Climate TRACE Coalition is assembling the data and running the AI.

There’s an old truism in the business world: what gets measured gets managed. One of the challenges in managing the greenhouse gas emissions warming the atmosphere is that they aren’t measured very well.

“Currently, most countries do not know where most of their emissions come from,” says Kelly Sims Gallagher, a professor of energy and environmental policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. “Even in advanced economies like the United States, emissions are estimated for many sectors.” Without this information “you cannot devise smart and effective policies to mitigate emissions,” she says, and “you cannot track them to see if you are making progress against your goals.” Continue reading

Mangroves for the Win

Mangrove restoration in Madagascar. Photograph: Alamy

Our previous posts about the multiple positives of planting trees in response to climate change and toward the goal of economic recovery didn’t take coastal ecosystems into account. These regions tend to be extra vulnerable to the increased pressures of extreme weather, not to mention being the home of many vulnerable populations.

This type of investment seems like a win/win.

Oceans panel presses coastal states to invest in ‘blue recovery’

Report says there are substantial economic benefits to be had from ocean conservation

Investing in the marine environment offers many coastal states the possibility of a “blue recovery” from the coronavirus crisis, according to a report setting out substantial economic benefits from ocean conservation.

Ending overfishing and allowing stocks to recover while ensuring fish farms operate on a sustainable basis would generate benefits of about $6.7tn (£5.3tn) over the next 30 years, according to an assessment of ocean economics by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.

This would require reforming perverse subsidies that encourage overfishing, and better regulation of fish farming, but the returns on such investment would repay the outlay 10 times over, the report says.

Mangrove restoration on tropical coastlines offers a quick way to generate jobs in seeding and planting, and returns of about $3 for every $1 spent, in the form of more productive fisheries as well as storm protection.

The costs of offshore wind energy generation have plummeted in recent years, making clean energy generation at sea a viable prospect for many countries for the first time. The UK has long been a pioneer in the field, but many other countries have been slow to take it up.

The report found that the technology has matured so quickly that investors can generate returns of up to $17 on each $1 spent, opening up a potential bonanza globally of $3.5tn by 2050 if governments put the right conditions in place.

Ngedikes Olai Uludong, Palau’s ambassador to the UN and one of the panel members, said offshore wind energy could spell an explosion in highly skilled green jobs. “Technologies like offshore wind offer a rate of return that makes more and more sense,” she told the Guardian. “It looks like it is taking off. I’m seeing interest from countries that I’ve never seen interested before.”
Continue reading

Scaling The Urban Farm, In Paris

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Nature Urbaine. Photograph: Magali Delporte/The Guardian

The future of food: inside the world’s largest urban farm – built on a rooftop

In Paris, urban farmers are trying a soil-free approach to agriculture that uses less space and fewer resources. Could it help cities face the threats to our food supplies?

Thanks to the Guardian for keeping stories like this  coming:

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Urban farming on a Parisian rooftop. Photograph: Stéphane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

On top of a striking new exhibition hall in the southern 15th arrondissement of Paris, the world’s largest urban rooftop farm has started to bear fruit. Strawberries, to be precise: small, intensely flavoured and resplendently red.

They sprout abundantly from cream-coloured plastic columns. Pluck one out to peer inside and you see the columns are completely hollow, the roots of dozens of strawberry plants dangling into thin air.

From identical vertical columns nearby burst row upon row of lettuces; near those are aromatic basil, sage and peppermint. Opposite, in narrow, horizontal trays packed not with soil but coco coir (coconut fibre), grow heirloom and cherry tomatoes, shiny aubergines and brightly coloured chards. Continue reading

A Change Of Tone

EnvPod

Usually his writing voice sounds like he is frustrated, and his spoken voice can sound like he is feeling headed for defeat. Today there is a different sound and it is worth listening to:

PoliticsAndMore-McKibbenSCRulingThis week, the Supreme Court rejected the Trump Administration’s request to expand construction on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and the climate-change task force formed by Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders urged politicians to “treat climate change like the emergency that it is.” Bill McKibben, an activist in the environmental movement for three decades, joins Dorothy Wickenden to discuss whether the United States has hit a turning point in the battle against global warming.

 

Really, France?

This post was going to link out to one of our favorite sources, celebrating fossil fuel tough times. But at the very end of his post, almost as a throw away, there was this reference to the ad above. It led somewhere more fun–and got us thinking Really?–and a chance to instead shout out again about ebikes and VanMoof:

This e-bike ad has been banned in France – let’s talk about why

by Iain Treloar

E-bikes are the future. That’s what the bike industry thinks, that’s what a bunch of new cyclists think, and that’s what sustainable transportation advocates think.

But not everyone thinks that way, as a spat between e-bike brand VanMoof and the French advertising regulatory body has proven.

At the centre of this stoush is a slick TV commercial by VanMoof, a Dutch urban bicycle brand best known for creating that bike with the top tube that looks like that. In the ad, a glossy black sports car has images of pollution, traffic jams and emergency vehicles projected onto it, before melting into a pile of black goo from which a VanMoof e-bike emerges to the slogan ‘time to ride the future’.

It’s pretty visually striking. It also does a succinct job of boiling down many of the concerns people have about over-reliance on automobiles in light of the, you know, climate emergency that we may or may not* be going through globally (*definitely are).

So it’s a little surprising to learn that the ad has been banned from French television because it “creates a climate of fear” around cars.

So what’s really going on here? Let’s break this down.

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THE PLAYERS

VanMoof: The quirky Dutch brand launched in 2009 with an analogue town bike with integrated lights and lock, and has since had an electric renaissance. Continue reading